Up until I was handed the XA-F57 to review I have to admit that I didn’t know JVC made MP3 players. It seems that every electronics company feels it has to offer a digital audio device to truly be part of the 21st century but I found myself wondering if JVC, a company I still associate with VHS recorders, can bring anything new to the MP3 party.
The first thing I noticed was the branding that JVC has chosen for its players – ‘Alneo’. Speaking on a personal level I have to say that I’m really not sure about this word. It sounds more like something you’d suffer from than a desirable brand of MP3 players, but I tried not to let that prejudice me.
The XA-57 is a small bean-like player, buts it’s flatter and wider than Sony’s similar shaped players. If you're in the market for a flash player the obvious competitor is the iPod nano. At 17.5mm the JVC is much thicker, but at its longest edge it's only 73mm, compared to 90mm for the nano.
The player is made of plastic but pleasingly it felt good in the hand, - not too cheap or tacky.
The player charges via the USB cable and battery life is rated at 11 hours, less than the 14 hours of the nano. The battery isn’t replaceable.
The main appeal of the ‘Alneo’ really, is that it comes in multiple colours, some of which are quite funky. The one we were sent was a rather fetching red - hence the rather precise name of the XA-F57R. The player is also available with an S suffix – silver, a P suffix – pink, and an A suffix – Blue. No, I don’t get that last one either. You can get black and white as well.
The 57 range all have 512MB of memory, which is bottom-end these days. You can get the same player in the same colours but with 1GB of flash memory and these are called the XA-F107E.
For those that don’t like music managers, this JVC will appeal. You just plug it in to Windows XP via USB and it’ll just pop-up as a drive letter. (Windows 98 drives are supplied. Is anyone still using this?). You then just drag and drop onto it, either loosely or via folders. This means that you can just use it as generic storage. However, you need to use a USB cable with mini-USB at the player end, so it’s no real replacement for a USB key.
When copying files over I have to say that I was shocked by the speed of the file transfer, or rather lack of it. The first time it took me three minutes just to transfer 111MBs. That’s 0.62MBs per second, which isn’t even close to USB 1.0 speeds. I was using a USB hub so I tried again with a direct connection but still only got 0.65MB/s. If you ever want to transfer tracks in a hurry, you’ll find yourself swearing at this sluggish little player.